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Operating Microscopes and

Zero-Defect Dentistry
David J. Clark, DDS

Operating microscopes are celebrating their 25th anniversary in dentistry. Initially resisted by
endodontists and mainstream dentists, there has been a recent surge of interest in microscope-
enhanced dentistry. In endodontics, the microscope is becoming standard equipment.
This article discusses a change in the endodontic-restorative protocol and highlights a clinical
case that demonstrates the tremendous advantage of advanced magnification when married
with other forward-thinking techniques. It concludes with an exploration of the rationale and
science of zero-defect restorative dentistry, dentinal caries removal, and finally a review of the
science of microscope-enhanced dentistry.
Les microscopes opératoires célèbrent leur 25e anniversaire en médecine dentaire. Initialement
boudés par les endodontistes et les dentistes, on constate maintenant un intérêt grandissant
pour la médecine dentaire de pointe et l’utilisation du microscope. En endodontie, le microscope
est maintenant un instrument courant.
Cet article traite d’un changement apporté dans le protocole de l’endodontie et de la médecine
dentaire restauratrice et expose un cas clinique qui démontre l’avantage du grossissement com-
biné à d’autres techniques avant-gardistes. En conclusion, on aborde l’analyse raisonnée et la sci-
ence de la médecine dentaire zéro-défaut, l’enlèvement des caries de la dentine et finalement on
fait une revue de la science de la médecine dentaire de pointe et l’utilisation du microscope.

About the Author

Dr. David Clark, DDS, is the founder of the Academy of Microscope Enhanced Dentistry, an international
association formed to advance the science and practice of microendodontics, microperiodontics, micro-
prosthodontics, and microdentistry. He is a course director at the Newport Coast Oral Facial Institute in
Newport Beach, California. Dr. Clark served Clinical Research Associates in the “Update Series” lectures and as
an interim Dentist/Researcher from 2005 to 2007.

Dr. Clark authored the first comprehensive guide to enamel and dentinal cracks based on 16-power
magnification in the Journal of Esthetic and Restorative Dentistry. He has written numerous articles relating to minimally
invasive dentistry, biomimetic endodontic shaping, and the role of advanced magnification in modern dental practice.

Dr. Clark has developed new techniques and materials, including the endo-restorative casting; a new shape for the class II
composite, the “Clark Class II”; and a matrix and interproximal management system, the Bioclear Matrix System, that promises a
real advancement for both bonded porcelain and direct composites. He has helped pioneer the concept of biomimetic
micro-endodontics, which is a significant departure from Schilderean shaping.

43 Journal canadien de dentisterie restauratrice et de prosthodontie Decembre 2008


perating microscopes are celebrating

O their 25th anniversary in dentistry.
Initially resisted by endodontists and
mainstream dentists, there has been a
recent surge of interest in microscope-
enhanced dentistry. In endodontics, the
microscope is becoming standard equip-
ment (Figure 1). At a recent opinion
leader’s forum, the question was posed:
“Should microscopes be required for all
endodontic treatment?” This incredible
swing in endodontic opinion also is being
felt in general dentistry. As dental schools
begin to integrate the microscope into the
curriculum, two new frontiers in den-
tistry will be realized: minimally traumat-
ic dentistry and zero-defect dentistry.
This brief article discusses a change in
the endodontic-restorative protocol and
then highlights a clinical case that demon-
strates the tremendous advantage of
advanced magnification when married
with other forward thinking techniques.
The article concludes with an exploration
of the rationale and science of zero-defect
restorative dentistry, dentinal caries
removal and finally a review of the science
of microscope-enhanced dentistry.

Modern Decision Making for the

Compromised Tooth
Implants have raised the bar to the point
where heroic attempts to restore the com-
promised tooth should generally be
accompanied with a conversation that
includes the option for implant replace-
An argument can also be made that the
predictability of implants places additional
pressure on the restorative dentist; the loss
of a restored tooth after a 5-year lifespan
may have been acceptable in 1960, but may
be unacceptable in 2008.
Microscope-enhanced dentistry is
changing the endodontic-restorative proto-
col, altering the thought process when Figure 1. The author at work with his microscope, a G6 Global surgical microscope.
determining when to save or extract a
tooth. Microscopes offer additional meth- cians can assess the likely outcome and use turn, can create an optimal restorative seal.
ods for caries assessment and endodontic this information in decision making. Clinicians also can assess the actual inva-
therapy, moving the profession closer to Today’s finished case should be sealed sion of the biologic width and potential for
zero-defect restorative dentistry. exquisitely, pleasing esthetically, and healthy and esthetic soft-tissue contours.1
The decision to “extract or save” is a accompanied by regenerated papillae. With For example, in the case presented, caries
constantly evolving art form. In micro- advanced magnification, the additional removal, margin identification, and the
scope-enhanced dentistry, the thought visual information afforded to the clinician potential for papilla regeneration could be
process in the endodontic-restorative pro- with the benefit of shadowless, coaxial verified by restorative investigation.
tocol is often inversed. Rather than light combined with infinity corrected “Restorative investigation” is an important
“endodontics then restorative,” it is often optics enhances the clinician’s ability to concept that is defined as “The clinical
“restorative, then endodontics” as clini- create clean, caries free margins, which, in practice of prosthodontic disassembly,

December 2008 Canadian Journal of Restorative Dentistry and Prosthondontics 44


2 Case Summary
The patient, a 56-year-old woman, was
vacillating between treatment plans for her
upper arch: a full immediate upper denture
or restorative reconstruction. While the
treatment for the lower arch was proceed-
ing, she began to experience pain with the
upper right central incisor (Figure 2). She
had a class reunion that was a week away.
She desperately wanted to attend this
important function without pain and with
a smile that did not embarrass her.
Implants were not an option for the
upper arch for financial reasons. She was
faced with a decision of either removing
the tooth and receiving a temporary partial
denture, or initiating restorative treatment
combined with endodontic therapy. The
patient chose the latter because it allowed
for retention of the tooth as an interim
treatment until a final decision was
reached for the maxillary arch.
Figure 2. Preoperative view of deep caries on mesial aspect of upper right central incisor. Figure 3 demonstrates the tooth after
caries removal was thought to be complete.
Although the dentin did not stain with
caries-indicator solution, in the author’s
experience the use of high magnification
to evaluate hardness is the ultimate test of
sound dentin. Magnification (16×)
revealed that gross caries was still present.
Figure 4 demonstrates exploration of the
deepest layer of “noodle dentin.” Final
evaluation of the nuances of sound dentin
is demonstrated in Figure 5. A coarse dia-
mond can be used to assess dentin because
at 20–24× magnification the scratches can
be used as clues to assess dentin hardness.3
Carr has shown that the unaided eye cannot
distinguish between two lines that are closer
together than 200 microns. With the micro-
scope, 20 micron assessment is possible.
To create an ideal embrasure form, a
Bioclear matrix (Tacoma, WA) was used
(Figure 6 and Figure 7). This anatomically
shaped matrix encourages the papilla to
The composite was cured, then shaped

such as the D♦Fine™ (Clinician’s Choice,

Figure 3. Initial caries removal. Application of caries-indicator solution did not stain the dentin. and polished. Modern porcelain polishers,
Extremely soft dentin often does not allow penetration of the dye, creating a false negative
caries assessment (original magnification 8x). New Milford, CT) or Jazz™ series (SS
White Burs, Inc, Lakewood, NJ), yield a
finish that is absolutely breathtaking
restoration removal, caries excavation, are deemed satisfactory, then, and only (Figure 8).
microsurgical access, and tissue retraction; then, is the pulp chamber re-accessed and After the patient and clinician were
the goal of which is to assess the true endodontic therapy initiated. This evolu- confident that the tooth was a good invest-
extent of dental pathology combined con- tion in triage has the potential to become ment, delicate endodontic access (Figure 9)
current with the long term restorative the standard of care in the modern era of was created and endodontic therapy was
potential of the tooth.”2 After these issues dentistry. completed in a more sterile environment.5,6
45 Journal canadien de dentisterie restauratrice et de prosthodontie Decembre 2008

4 5

Figure 4. Soft dentin being teased with an explorer (original magnifica- Figure 5. Complete caries removal confirmed by scratch marks from a
tion 16x). coarse diamond bur. Softer, infected dentin does not exhibit this type of
surface texture (original magnification 24x).

6 7

Figure 6 and Figure 7. The anatomically shaped Bioclear matrix in position. The aggressive cervical curvature encourages the static pressure and
scaffold needed to stimulate the regeneration of the papilla.
In the traditional approach, endodontics is tion and improper asepsis. Introduction of tory for minimally traumatic dentistry, and
performed first with either no restorative untoward bacteria into the canal systems for the patient, an elevated commitment to
seal in the interproximal area of caries or a both during and after endodontic therapy8– lifestyle changes and improved home care.
marginally sealed temporary restoration. 12 has been shown in multiple studies to This case also highlights a key factor in
Bacterial strains such as Enterococcus fae- contribute to endodontic failure.13–16 many restorative cases, the emotional state
calis that are commonly cultured from the Additionally, there are reports of failing of patients that influences decision making
root canal systems of endodontic failures endodontic therapy with multiple failed and how one small success can turn the
are rarely cultured from the pulp spaces of endodontic re-treatments that were inef- tide of decision making.
cases of irreversible pulpitis (no radi- fective until a well sealed coronal restora-
ographic lesion, partially or fully vital tion was placed.17 Other cross sectional Zero-Defect Restorative Dentistry
pulp) such as the featured case.7 The logi- studies have shown that a good coronal Caries removal is a fundamental task of
cal conclusion discussed by the endodontic seal is at least as important as a good root traditional dentistry. Unfortunately, the
community is that these problematic bac- filling.18 commercially driven focus of bleaching,
teria can only gain access into the canals The patient was so impressed with the veneers, lasers, and implants has distracted
and periapical areas through coronal leak- result (Figure 10) that this one event creat- some away from the topic of caries
age after endodontic therapy, in between ed the excitement and optimism to retain removal. The basic preparation tool (car-
endodontic appointments, or during rather than extract her upper natural den- bide and diamond burs) of dentistry is
endodontic therapy from inadequate isola- tition. Accompanying this decision is a vic- very similar to what it was generations ago.

December 2008 Canadian Journal of Restorative Dentistry and Prosthondontics 46


8a 8b

Figure 8. A, Preoperative view of deep caries on mesial aspect of upper right central incisor. B, Immediate postoperative view. The long, infinity-edge
margin allowed an ideal esthetic result – a heroic composite restoration that is as smooth as the contralateral tooth that has a porcelain crown.
This exceeds all expectations of what we can do with composite.

Traditional burs can in no way differenti- Table 1. Traditional clinical removal should be terminated once the
ate between healthy and unhealthy tooth dentinal caries assessment affected dentin has been reached, in the
structures. The only known selective hard- • Radiographs 40 to 50 Knoop hardness range.
ness cutting instruments are Smartburs™ • Dentinal color Microscopic evaluation at extreme levels
(SS White Burs, Inc.), which are not readi- • Dentinal hardness (spoon excavator or of magnification provides additional visu-
ly available. The tactile differences between explorer) al information to assess the texture and
decayed dentin (soft) and healthy dentin • Uptake of caries-indicator dye hardness of dentin that can augment the
(hard) is the single most common tool that • Laser Fluorescence (Diagnodent) traditional tactile approach to dentin
is employed by practitioners in the deter- hardness (Table 2).
mination on of which structures to The presumption that healthy dentin Maintaining areas of affected dentin that
remove.19 Although there are many ways in is “harder” is supported by extensive may be discoloured will not compromise
which a clinician can assess carious dentin, research.23 The most predictable clinical the tooth-restoration complex.25 However,
today’s most common approaches include indicator of sound versus unsound dentin some studies have shown a compromised
radiographs, caries-indicator dye, spoon is hardness.24 The Knoop hardness scale long term resin bond to discoloured,
excavator or explorer tip (tactile hardness) of infected dentin ranges from 0 to 30, affected, and amalgam contaminated
tests, and laser fluorescence detection20–22 affected dentin from 30 to 70, and healthy dentin.26 In these cases, the use of a glass
(Table1). dentin from 70 to 90. Ideally, dentin ionomer sandwich technique is an option,

9 10

Figure 10. At 4 weeks, there was partial papilla regeneration. The

patient had very little postoperative discomfort and was ecstatic about
the esthetic result.

Figure 9. Endodontic access with a conical carbide is less traumatic than

with fissure burs or round burs. Pictured is a prototype CK endodontic
access bur from SS White Burs, Inc. (original magnification 4x).
47 Journal canadien de dentisterie restauratrice et de prosthodontie Decembre 2008

Table 2. Visual clues of tooth hardness observed by the author under the complete. Leaving gross residual caries at
microscope the margin areas contradicts many restora-
tive principles could doom this case to pre-
1. “Wet sponge” reaction to explorer pressure 8x magnification
mature failure.
2. Dentin-enamel microgapping at dentino-enamel junction 16x magnification
3. Diamond bur scratching 20–24x magnification Clinical Microscopes: Luxury or
which can have a more stable long term ent diagnostic approaches to occlusal The operating microscope is not just sim-
bond (glass ionomer-dentin interface) to caries assessment found that visual tech- ply higher magnification than oculars
compromised dentin.27 Alternatively an niques without advanced magnification (loupes). It is better magnification. Oculars
enhancement of other more predictable were only correct 53% of the time and have been very helpful and may always
surfaces (i.e., creating longer enamel mar- caries disclosing dyes were only accurate have a role in dentistry, but the optics are
gins or dentinal undercuts) could be uti- 43% of the time.29 While laser fluorescence crude when compared to the Infinity
lized in lieu of a glass ionomer sandwich. can be very accurate,30 its use in most Corrected Optics of a stereoscopic micro-
Dentin colour is one of the least pre- practices is for initial diagnosis. Use of scope (Figures 11–14). When combined
dictable indicators of sound dentin, i.e., instruments such as a Diagnodent for on- with the shadowless coaxial light source,
black, brown, and green dentin in previ- the-fly diagnosis during cutting of the they transform the clinician’s potential for
ously restored teeth is often non-carious tooth is both impractical and non specific accuracy of nearly every aspect in the dif-
and should not be removed.28 Conversely, (a positive reading of 20 or above indicates ferent disciplines in dentistry.
normal coloured dentin can be soft and that caries are present but not precisely Increasing levels of magnification pro-
grossly infected but appear normal at low where the carious and non carious tooth duce a squared, not linear relationship to
magnification. In these cases, caries-indi- structures are). In the case presented, the visual acuity. In other words, a clinician
cator dye often can give a “false negative” dentin in Figure 2 was treated with caries- working at 3.5× sees 10 times more visual
to stain uptake. In other words, the dentin indicator dye and had no stain uptake. It is information, 10× magnification allows the
can have a normal colour, and yet be so my opinion that without the microscope I human retina to acquire 100 times more
soft that no absorption of caries-indicator could have easily been lulled into a false information, and 20× allows 400 times the
solution occurs. A study comparing differ- sense of security that caries removal was visual information31 (Table 3).

Improved Outcomes?
Improved outcomes from the use of mag-
nification have been well documented in
the medical literature, and scientific vali-
dation in dentistry is beginning to
emerge.32–40 There are no legal require-
ments in Canada or the United States
mandating that dentists use magnification.
However, most dental schools today either
recommend or require the use of magnify-
ing loupes for both pre-clinical and clinical
training. In 1999 the American Associ-
ation of Endodontists mandated that
microscopes be implemented into all US
graduate endodontic residency programs.
There are scant studies conducted at the
highest level as randomized, controlled,
and double blind in any field of dentistry
to prove or disprove most of what we do in
private practice. To prove without question
that magnification or microscopic magnifi-
cation provides better clinical outcomes
will be as difficult and pointless, in my
opinion, as proving that using a bright
operatory light is better than a dim light.
Figure 11. Oculars (loupes) rely on convergent vision that essentially requires an overlap of two
In spite of this, the “magnification escala-
images. This form of magnification creates increasing problems and eye strain as magnification
tion” continues in most nations around the
power increases. The clinical microscope utilizes a more refined optical system (original magnifi-
world as even third world countries such
cation 16x).
as Chile now boast Societies of Microscope

December 2008 Canadian Journal of Restorative Dentistry and Prosthondontics 48


12 Table 3. Magnification and visual information

Magnification 1x 2x 4x 10x 16x 25x
Information 1x 4x 16x 100x 256x 625x
Picture 660 2,640 10,560 66,000 168,960 412,500

Dentistry. Once the bar is raised to allow a new level of diagnostic sensi-
tivity, it is unlikely that a regression toward a lesser capability will occur.
There are many studies that have shown that magnification plays an
important role in clinical accuracy, such as the ability to access and
shape complex root canal anatomy. In a compelling study, the use of a
microscope enabled the author, an endodontist, to improve his ability to
find a fourth canal system from 73 to 93% in maxillary first molars.41,42
Sadly, most general dentists and endodontists who do not use micro-
Figure 12. The figure features 8x convergent magnification with scopes rarely report finding four canal systems in maxillary first molars.
loupes and a representation of the two images that the brain
There are studies showing that use of an operating microscope can lead
receives as the eyes begin to focus.
to less postoperative discomfort.43 In periodontics, the microscope
enhances the surgeon’s visual acuity44 allowing better manipulation and
more accurate suturing of the soft tissues.45 Low tissue trauma, excellent
flap control, and a micro-suturing technique that allows primary wound
closure may be responsible for improved clinical success.46,47 Reduced
operator mistakes in endodontics have been reported as a benefit of clin-
ical microscopes.48 The ergonomics of the microscope clinician’s proper
posture have shown a remarkable reduction in back pain and disability, a
priceless benefit to the practitioner for a pervasive and serious problem
that can destroy our health and diminish the daily enjoyment of our

Owning and using a microscope does not make one dentist better than
another. Experience, training, commitment, and ability are the key traits
Figure 13. The figure shows a common occurrence of the incom- that distinguish the good from the great. Excellence in dentistry is both a
plete merging of the images seen through a pair of loupes. Both choice and a journey, and magnification can be a powerful asset for
Figure 12 and Figure 13 demonstrate the visual noise (blurry those who seek absolute clinical accuracy. The testimony of doctors who
periphery) of loupes optics. use the microscope daily in their practices confirms its value; an over-
whelming majority affirms that it has improved their clinical skills. The
14 microscope, with instantaneous magnification from 2.5× to 24×, no
visual noise, and shadowless coaxial light, offers the best means for
achieving complete visual information in dentistry. It can nurture great
confidence, healthier posture, and better and surer hands for the clini-
cian. And in the end, the excellent visual information it offers can help
the doctor to create more precise, more healthful, and more esthetically
pleasing dentistry.

Dr. Clark has no financial interest in any microscope company. Dr. Clark
has a financial interest in the Bioclear Matrix System. He is also the co-
developer of the CK endodontic access burs.

Figure 14. The figure represents the same case seen with a clinical 1. Clark DJ, Kim J. Optimizing gingival esthetics; a microscopic perspective.
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scope is a superior and healthier choice.
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